Real Names for Imaginary Friends: How Hence Got His Name
I get asked a lot about “Hence,” the name I gave to the moody, rough-around-the-edges guitarist Catherine falls in love with in my novel Catherine. Where did the name come from? Since the novel draws inspiration from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, why didn’t I simply name the male lead Heathcliff or, at least, Heath? Is anybody in the world really named Hence?
Well, the answer’s a bit embarrassing, because it reveals two things: how old I am and how weird I am.
Back in the dark days before the Internet, I used to read the phonebook for fun. Remember phonebooks? They don’t really exist anymore…or at least I haven’t seen one in years. But back when a thick copy of the White Pages landed on my doorstep, I would amuse myself by leafing through it for interesting names. When I found a name I liked, I would jot it down, reasoning that someday when my son got a little older I might find the time to write fiction, and when that day came I would need good character names.
One day while browsing through the Cincinnati phonebook, I stumbled across a listing for Hence and Velva Eversole, and fell in love with their quirky, musical names. I imagined they might be brother and sister, never married, or maybe living together after their spouses died. I pictured Hence as a big middle-aged guy in overalls and Velva as a sweet-faced woman in a housedress. I thought they might be from a small Ohio town but for one reason or another they had been transplanted to the big city where they were more than a little bit homesick. I vowed I would write about them someday, but I never did.
Still, when the Cincinnati phonebook made its annual appearance on my doorstep, I would always look up Hence and Velva. One year, Hence’s name disappeared and my heart broke for poor lonely Velva. I moved away from Cincinnati, but I never forgot them. And when I was working on Catherine, I thought of Hence and Velva, my old imaginary friends.
First, I needed a last name for Catherine. Inspired by Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, she’s beautiful, confident, impetuous, romantic, and a bit self-centered—the kind of girl who could inspire a love beyond reason. What name could have suited her better than Eversole? Change a couple of letters and you’ve got Eversoul—with its suggestion of eternity and soulfulness and maybe even of ghosts. Eversole even starts with an E—like Earnshaw—and something about that satisfied the superstitious side of my personality.
Next, I needed a name for the boy Catherine loves. Intense and brooding, with a past so brutal he refuses to speak of it, he reinvents himself by running away to New York City—to the front door of The Underground, the legendary nightclub owned by Catherine’s father. Like Heathcliff, and like the rockstar he hopes to become, my character would go by a single name: Hence. A little Googling taught me that the name is sometimes short for Henry…or maybe Henderson. It’s a rare name, and probably mostly a rural one, which suited my character’s small-town past. And it even starts with “H”—like Heathcliff.
Sure, I could have named my character Heathcliff or Heath. But I couldn’t resist the chance to name check my old imaginary friend Hence Eversole. And some day, when the right character comes along, I hope to pay tribute to Velva as well.